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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications / Modelling the relative impact of rivers (Scheldt/Rhine/Seine) and Western Channel waters on the nutrient and diatoms/Phaeocystis distributions in Belgian waters (Southern North Sea).

Geneviève Lacroix, Kevin Ruddick, Nathalie Gypens and Christiane Lancelot (2007)

Modelling the relative impact of rivers (Scheldt/Rhine/Seine) and Western Channel waters on the nutrient and diatoms/Phaeocystis distributions in Belgian waters (Southern North Sea).

Continental Shelf Research, 27(10-11):1422-1446.

The coastal areas of the Southern North Sea (SNS) experience eutrophication problems resulting from freshwater nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) inputs from rivers. In particular, massive blooms of Phaeocystis colonies occur in Belgian waters. In this region, water masses result from the mixing of Western Channel (WCH) waters transported through the Straits of Dover with nutrient-rich freshwater from the Scheldt, the Rhine and Meuse, the Seine, the Thames and other smaller rivers. However, the relative contribution of the WCH and each river to the inorganic nutrient pool and the impact on the phytoplankton community structure (diatoms and Phaeocystis) are not known. In order to effectively manage the eutrophication problems, it is necessary to know: (i) the relative contribution of the WCH and of each river impacting the region and (ii) the relative effect of a N and/or P nutrient reduction on the Phaeocystis blooms. To answer these questions, sensitivity tests (1% nutrient reduction) and nutrient reduction scenarios (50% nutrient reduction) have been performed with a three-dimensional (3D) coupled physical–biogeochemical model (MIRO&CO-3D).

MIRO&CO-3D results from the coupling of the COHERENS 3D hydrodynamic model with the ecological model MIRO. The model has been set up for the region between 48.5°N, 4°W and 52.5°N, 4.5°E and run to simulate the annual cycle of carbon, inorganic and organic nutrients, phytoplankton (diatoms and Phaeocystis), bacteria and zooplankton (microzooplankton and copepods) in the SNS under realistic forcing (meteorology and river inputs) for the period 1991–2003. The relative contribution of the WCH waters and of the different rivers on the inorganic nutrient pool available for phytoplankton (diatoms and Phaeocystis) growth is assessed by decreasing by 1% the nutrient (dissolved inorganic nitrogen, DIN and inorganic phosphate, PO4) inputs from the WCH and from, respectively, the Scheldt (and smaller Belgian rivers), the Rhine/Meuse and the Seine (and smaller French rivers) [sensitivity tests]. The relative role of N and P reduction on the diatoms/Phaeocystis distribution is further explored by simulations with 50% reduction of the total (inorganic and organic) N and total P river inputs [nutrient reduction scenarios]. These scenarios allow assessing the impact of the expected 50% reduction of river nutrient inputs resulting from the implementation of nutrient reduction policy.

Results of the sensitivity tests suggest that the impact of a 1% reduction of river nutrient inputs on surface nutrients (DIN and PO4) over the Belgian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) area is similar for the Seine and the Scheldt, which are in turn greater than for the Rhine. However, a hypothetical 1% reduction of nutrient input from the WCH boundary would have a higher impact than for the Scheldt. The impact of nutrient reduction is higher for DIN than for PO4 whatever the river (contrary to the WCH). DIN is more sensitive to riverine nutrient reduction because the rivers are over enriched in DIN compared to PO4. The sensitivity tests suggest also that a PO4 river input reduction would result in a N:P increase and a DIN river input reduction would result in a N:P decrease but that a combined (PO4 and DIN) input reduction would reduce the N:P ratio at sea.

From 50% nutrient reduction scenarios, model results suggest that a total P reduction would induce a significant decrease of diatoms and a small (coast) to negligible (offshore) decrease of Phaeocystis biomass. On the contrary, a total N reduction would induce a significant decrease of Phaeocystis biomass and a moderate increase of diatoms. When N and P river input reductions are combined, the model predicts a significant decrease of Phaeocystis biomass in Belgian waters and a significant decrease of diatom biomass in the coastal waters and a small increase offshore. A future management plan aiming at Phaeocystis reduction should thus prioritise N reduction.

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